I have been thinking a lot about plot this week. The problem is one of inexperience. There seems to be two schools of thought. On the one hand the plot is mapped, planned, sub-divided into chapters and each chapter sub-divided into sections until you have effectively written a skeleton and the only task left is to clothe it with words. In fact this approach is so popular it has been reduced to a system which means anybody can be a writer hurrah! The other one is what I seem to be doing and there appears to be sod all about it.
I’ll be honest with you the first approach frightens me and whenever I have attempted it I have failed miserably. Why I hear you cry. Well dear reader it is because….(come close because I need to whisper so only you know) I don’t know what is going to happen. There I have said it, confessed my sin. Actually having written it down I feel better, my dirty little secret is out in the open. No going back, everybody now knows I haven’t an actual clue what I am doing. This issue really came home to me when I re-read my original plot ideas and synopsis that I wrote about six months ago. Oh dear. When I compare that to what I am actually writing there is very little in common apart from the setting the basic characters and a working title. The thing is, what I am actually doing feels so much better, the emergent narrative feels more natural, the characters more real and the story more engaging. I now look back at the original plot and see it is wooden, laboured and in service to the idea. What I mean by that is the characters are there to serve the plot rather than the plot emerges as the characters uncover it for themselves, which seems to me to be more exciting and interesting.
So does this mean I have no idea where the story is going and have no plot no end point? Will the narrative just wander aimlessly on until everybody, including the characters gets bored/boring? Well unlike Tales From a Topographic Ocean I do have some ideas. Instead of a detailed plot outline I have staging posts, or scenes that I have in my head and also jotted down in note form. I have a framework, a set of rules about how my take on Victorian society would operate, but within that the plot and the characters have free will. I have written a broad synopsis about the overall story arc and the major plot strands for the first two novels, but that’s it. What is very interesting is that this approach allows me to add/refine/uncover new ideas that are rooted in the approach and what has gone before but add a level of complexity or detail to the plot or the world building. A recent example was when researching the East India Company I came across this wonderful piece of serendipity Nemesis. What a name what a ship! Well as soon as I discovered her I knew that she must form a key part of the story. The Cadre (more of them later) would have been all over such a technology and so am I. So as the story emerges you and me can speculate about what might happen, but if no-one not even the author knows exactly what happens next, well that’s just ………
To finish with here is another creative writing class exercise. For this one (and I suspect all subsequent ones) I have used the premise as an excuse to write from the perspective of one of the characters in the novel rather than witter on about myself. This may or may not end up in the final draft but it’s a very good way of exploring/developing your characters in situations not of your choosing.Enjoy.
A Place of Tranquillity
Francis Perrin a young Victorian gentleman scientist is in West Africa searching for Oklo the “God of Steam” a deity said to possess the power of infinite energy. He and Lemmuel Salt his bodyguard have run into a spot of bother with the local Orungu tribe who believe they have desecrated the cave where Oklo lives.
Knocked flat and winded, Perrin turns to confront his fate and instead of an Orungu with spear and death he sees Salt in perfect harmony with the world. Sword in one hand his thick veined stick in the other, every limb operating independently and in perfect rhythm. In this sphere of death his movement is balletic a block a bend a kick a slash each action perfectly coordinated in time and space. The stick catches the next victim, he staggers, and is kicked hard in the groin, he doubles up and the sword enters his back, perfectly aligned with his heart. Then without hesitation weight is transferred to the other leg, the stick swings, a head jerks back, the body falls and is impaled in movement so smooth, so precise, so efficient as to be not of this world. Salt has commanded that this offering be delivered at a time and place of his choosing and so it has come to pass. Chaos reigns all around him but Perrin is in the eye of the storm, a place of peace and tranquillity, created by a monster. He notices Salt’s face has no anger, no frustration, the expression is calm as on waking from restful sleep, his eyes are soft and there is the hint of a smile on his lips as if a small child had amused him. Salt is in the moment, he is time itself, in complete control of their destiny.
“Oi Mary, get off your arse stop and stop staring at my crotch, it puts a bloke right off his stroke!”